During normal times, we would be settled into our routines of watching Major League Baseball every day. The Yankees would be undefeated and running roughshod through the early part of their schedule. As we all know, these aren’t normal times. We don’t have domestic baseball right now. We need a baseball fix. Luckily, there is one available and it is the CPBL.
The CPBL is currently the only professional baseball league playing its regular season. The KBO will begin their pre-season on April 21 with an expected opening day sometime in early May. The NPB has pushed the start of its season back multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Taiwan has been able to control the virus well enough to allow the CPBL to begin their season in stadiums without fans. The stadiums aren’t totally empty as we will get to in a moment.
It is pretty great to experience something for the first time. Major League Baseball is something I know like the back of my hand at this point. I don’t know anything about the CPBL other than it exists. With no MLB baseball for the foreseeable future, I figured why not jump into the CPBL, learn about it and share what I’ve learned. Obviously, the game is the same, but finding out about new players, style of play, customs, and culture is really exciting.
The CPBL is Taiwan’s professional baseball league. Many people believe the CPBL plays its games in mainland China, but that is not the case. The professional Chinese baseball league is the CNBL. The CPBL regular season is 120 games. The league is split into two sixty game half seasons. The rules for postseason entry are a little different from the MLB rules. The winners of the first and second half seasons are eligible to make the postseason and play in the Taiwan Series. You can think of them as league winners. There is a catch though. This is where the wild card rules come into play.
There are two ways to gain a wild card spot. If the same team wins both the first half and second seasons, the teams with the second and third highest winning percentages will play each other in a best of five wild card series. The winner advances to the Taiwan Series to play the regular season double champions. In this scenario, the regular season champs enter the Taiwan Series with an automatic 1-0 lead in the series against the winner of the Wild Card series.
The second route to a wild card is even more interesting. If a non-half season winner has a better overall winning percentage at the end of the year than a half-season winner those two teams will face off in a Wild Card series. So a team can win the first half season, but end up in the Wild Card round because they struggled in the second half. It creates a great incentive for a first-half winner to compete in the second half so you don’t lose a direct trip to the championship round. It also gives teams incentive to compete all year because they can sneak into the playoffs despite not winning one of the two regular seasons.
To give a point of reference, the CPBL is akin to Double A. The team rosters are filled with players from MLB, MiLB, the KBO, and the NPB along with Taiwanese high school and college players. The CPBL is largely a hitters league. If you like offense this is the place for you.
CPBL teams are beginning to spend relatively big bucks to bring in foreign players. The contract lengths for foreign-born players generally range from three months to a half-season. There are some players who get full season or multi-year deals. There are some familiar names to come through the CPBL. Yankees legends Jose Contreras and Sweaty Freddy Garcia along with Manny Ramirez have all spent time in the CPBL.
The league is comprised of only five teams: the Rakuten Monkeys, the CTBC Brothers, the Fubon Guardians, Uni-Lions, and the Wei Chuan Dragons. The Dragons are an expansion team. Here are the team logos:
Originally the Lamigo Monkeys prior to the sale of the team, the Rakuten Monkeys have won five of the last six league championships. They are the league’s version of the dynasty Yankees. In terms of lineup prowess, they are also similar to the Yankees. They mash. They led the league in every team offensive category and overall they hit .318/.377/.493 as a team. On the flip side, their pitching isn’t very good. And they are very much the anti-Yankees in that their bullpen is comically bad. The adage no lead is safe is a way of life for the Rakuten Monkeys.
The Fubon Guardians are the perplexing team of the CPBL. If you look at their roster, they should be the top team in the league. But year in and year out the team folds in the biggest moments. This isn’t an apples to apples comparison, but they are similar to the Dodgers. A talented team that can’t get over the hump to snag the big one. The Guardians made a managerial change in the offseason and brought in Hong I-Chung. Those that follow the CPBL closely consider Hong I-Chung to be the best manager in the league.
The Rakuten Monkeys have cheerleaders and a mascot, but now they are joined by mannequin fans and a robot band. You should watch and support the CPBL for this alone:
To be fully transparent, I am not entirely sure what the format of the journal is going to be. It may be in the form of a thoughts post like we and others normally do. It may be in the form of a game recap although that is less likely since there isn’t any data to track the players. I don’t even know the players yet. These posts most certainly won’t be analytically based. They will be more anecdotal and narrative-driven, which is more than fine. I will cover the games that are broadcast in English. The next one is scheduled for this Friday, but Simone Kang of Eleven Sports Taiwan hints more English broadcasts may be available in the near future. We’re looking to have some fun while the MLB season remains in suspension.